Program off to successful start

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 13, 2002


RESERVE – “I love it!” a representative from Zachary High School said as she strolled down the long halls of East St. John High School. “I love the ‘Career Pathways.’ There is no question where you are going or what you are taking this week because you know where you are headed.”

It is experimental. Still, Louisiana educators touring ESJHS Friday called the program a breakthrough in high school education – one of the biggest to hit Louisiana. It was formed as a part of the “Small Learning Community” to bring the small-school atmosphere back to a growing parish high school.

ESJHS Principal Debra Schum said, “Instead of having one school of 1,300, you have smaller schools of 300 or 400.”

The two-part project started last year with the Freshman Academy. In-coming freshmen were separated from upperclassmen. By giving the freshman class its own block on campus, administrators created a “mini-school.” The result, Schum said, was an easier transition to high school for students and a more cohesive freshman class.

ESJHS divided further into three additional “pathways,” which have separate math, science, social studies and English classes.

“It creates separate sections so that all students in core subjects are in the same field,” Schum said.

The pathways work much like college majors. In the Freshman Seminars at the academy, teachers and advisors help students focus on a course of study.

When the students are sophomores, they work toward individual courses of study. The pathways available to students outside the academy are Business and Hospitality, Fine Arts and Humanities and Health, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. Those pathways are broken down into even more specialized clusters.

There are currently fewer students enrolled in the Business, Hospitality and Tourism pathway, more students enrolled in the sciences, and a moderate amount of students enrolled in Fine Arts. Schum said some reorganization of pathways may be done in the future to keep the number of students enrolled in each pathway at about 350 per school.

“Big numbers mean more availability of classes, but it can also mean a loss of the personal (relationships between teachers and students),” Schum said. “That is what we are trying to preserve with the pathways.”

But pathways provide students with more than just a more personalized education and a high school diploma. Pathways prepare students for college and careers.

“Most students want to know the connect,” Schum said. “They are always asking, ‘When am I ever going to use this?’ We, through the pathways, have made them a little more prepared.”

Students that meet all the requirements for their course of study receive special designations on their diplomas. Certain “Academy” classes will even give students enough training to go directly into their field of study.

“Some of the culinary arts requirements will be accepted by restaurants across the nation,” Schum said. “In the Certified Nursing Program students have the opportunity to come out of high school as a CNA.”

But most, Schum said, will take what they have learned from the pathways and go on to a vocational/technical school or college.

Students that switch majors or pathways are not penalized. They can graduate on time if they complete state graduation requirements.

While it is still too early to determine the success of the program, preliminary findings from the Freshman Academy indicate that a pathways program could increase student attendance and decrease the number of students that do not graduate.

During the 2001-2002 school year, freshman attendance increased from about 87 percent to almost 92 percent. The same year, 80 percent of freshman students were promoted to the tenth grade. That is up from 73 percent during the 2000-2001 school year.

“It made a tremendous difference in our data,” Schum said. “We have higher attendance, higher test scores and a higher number of students moving to the next grade. More freshmans made honor roll than seniors – that is the first time that has ever happened.”